I've decided to post a list of a few places that I know around NYC who often look for freelancers. I don't personally know all the places around here, the only ones I know are either ones I've worked at, ones who've contacted me, or ones where my friends have worked. So I will try to update this list when I hear of others, but don't take this list as complete or a "ranking" of studios by any means.
At the very least, here's a few places that can be a starting point for those of you looking for places to send demo reels in New York. Also, note that most of my knowledge is about places that do 3D work--I think there are a lot of places that do flash around here as well, so if you're looking for them don't be discouraged that they're not on this list...yet.
PLACES WHERE I'VE WORKED:
Framestore NY (www.framestore.com) Maya, Linux--The U.S. branch of Framestore CFC in London. A talented team that has done great work on the Geico Gecko, Fed Ex "Stick", Dodge "Focus Group". One of the places that does the most 3D character animation in New York. And they have a Simpson's Pinball game upstairs, which is very addictive ;)
Psyop (www.psyop.tv) Maya, Windows--The other place in Manhattan that does the most 3D Character Animation. They've been known for their motion graphics stuff for quite a while, but since Coke "Happiness Factory" came out they've gained quite a reputation among 3D animators as well. They are quickly becoming one of the larger(est?) studios in NYC.
Charlex (www.charlex.com) Maya, Windows--Worked here on "One Rat Short". They do a lot of cell phone commercials and other CG for advertising, not a lot of character animation since One Rat Short finished. If you're into motion capture and use Motion Builder, they are usually looking for people at their sister company "Launch", which does a lot of previs work.
Tronic (www.tronicstudio.com) 3DS Max, Windows--I worked for a little while on some M&M's stuff for the M&M's store in Times Square. Haven't heard if they are thinking of doing more character animation in the future.
WHERE MY FRIENDS HAVE WORKED:
Curious Pictures (www.curiouspictures.com) They write "Codename: Kids Next Door" for Cartoon Network, but do a lot of animation/effects in advertising locally. I believe they also animate "Little Einsteins" here.
Rhino FX (www.rhinofx.com) They do some similar work to Charlex, a lot of misc CG, effects and lighting work, occasionally other things.
PLACES WHO HAVE CONTACTED ME ABOUT GIGS:
The Mill (www.the-mill.com) Also based in London, but have a studio in NYC.
Digital Kitchen (www.d-kitchen.com) Studios in Seattle, Chicago, and NYC.
Hornet, Inc. (www.hornetinc.com) Studios in LA, NYC.
Stardust NY (www.stardust.tv) Studios in LA, NYC.
Eyeball NYC (www.eyeballnyc.com) Contacted me about a character animation gig recently.
Click 3x (www.click3x.com) Interviewed for a gig there once.
Kaos Studios (www.kaosstudios.com) (THQ) If you're looking for a staff position, this is a good place to look. They're currently working on "Frontlines: Fuel of War", an FPS game, keyframe animation. I've heard it's a nice place to work too.
Blue Sky (www.blueskystudios.com) Located in White Plains, about a half-hour north of Manhattan on the Metro-North train. You all have heard of them I'm sure.
ON APPLYING FOR JOBS:
These places don't often post jobs on the online job boards. They often don't know they need an animator until a job comes in for them, and usually they need someone pretty quickly. That being the case, it may be harder to grab a freelance gig if you're not local. But that doesn't mean it doesn't happen--I was hired by Charlex because I had a recommendation by a friend, and I had a week to move to NYC! More of that story later.
Character Animation gigs are sometimes hard to come by, with exceptions at places like Framestore and Psyop. Other places will have a character animation job every now and then, but lets face it, the bulk of commercials on TV that require animation and effects don't have characters. Don't ask me how I've landed character animation gigs so far, I think it's just been a good year for character animators. Don't let that get ya down, just realize you may have to animate a spinning cell-phone or something else sometimes to keep the income flowing.
Again, check out David B. Levy's "Your Career in Animation: How to Survive and Thrive" for great tips on how to job hunt in New York. Freelance gigs in New York are often filled through recommendation only, but some places do keep reels around to look at when they need to find somebody. Mostly though, they call back freelancers they've worked with in the past. It's not uncommon to see a lot of familiar faces at different studios, as we freelancers hop around a lot.
Lastly, most jobs around here are on a freelance basis. Occasionally you'll hear of a place that's hiring staff, but that is a rare occasion. Some people land staff positions after freelancing at a place for a while, and they usually have proven to be able to lend their talents for more than one aspect of production. For example, animatiors who can also rig, and riggers who can also animate.
So there ya go! I'll try to update this list in the future, I know of others that will be up here too. Anyone who knows of others, go ahead and post in the comments and I'll add them here too.